Who will be our new bishop?
We don’t know, and we won’t know until the evening of Thursday, July 19, when the new bishop assignments for annual conferences in the Southeastern Jurisdiction are expected to be announced.
Want to know more? There is excellent information about the whole episcopal process as well as biographies for bishop nominees on the Southeastern Jurisdiction website at www.sejumc.org.
But because you asked, here is a quick explanation of what will actually happen at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, July 18-20 at Lake Junaluska, N.C.
The Southeastern Jurisdiction includes 15 annual conferences, which will send 440 delegates to next week’s conference. Twenty-eight of those delegates represent Holston Conference.
These delegates will say goodbye to five retiring bishops and elect five new bishops. There are 15 nominees, including Holston’s own Rev. David Graves.
After the five new bishops are elected, the SEJ Episcopacy Committee will assign the recently elected bishops and relocating bishops to their new annual conferences. Bishop James Swanson is expected to be assigned to a new annual conference. Rev. Eddie Fox and Bob Lockaby are Holston’s representatives on the SEJ committee, as leaders of the 2008 General Conference delegation. (In 2016, Del Holley and Rev. Carol Wilson will represent Holston on the SEJ Episcopacy Committee.)
Many of us are asking questions such as, “Which candidate do you like?” “Who do you think Holston will get?” The SEJ website has posted each nominee’s bio and answers to questions posed by the Episcopacy Committee.
What most of us will do is read between the lines to decipher the “agenda,” political leanings, or evangelical/social spectrum for each nominee. We will search for hints of likeability, compatibility, and leadership style. Is he or she like us? We will assume things about nominees based on size of last church served, number of appointments, and web-design quality. We'll form opinions based on comments from friends and colleagues in other conferences.
We can’t help it. We’re only human, and searching and ciphering and forming opinions aren’t bad things.
However, as chair of the Holston Episcopacy Committee, I ask you to do one thing. I ask you to pray. Pray for trust. Pray that we trust our delegation to be open to God’s spirit. Pray that we trust the process and the connection. Pray that we trust the Holy Spirit working through the process and connection. Each of the candidates has been endorsed by his or her conference or a recognized caucus. They have proven to be effective in ministry, and they have a passion for the local church as the means through which disciples of Jesus Christ are nurtured, equipped, and sent. We trust that they are all worthwhile candidates.
Before you go to the Southeastern Jurisdiction website and figure out who you like and who you hope will be appointed to Holston, spend time in prayer for each candidate as a brother or sister in Christ – not as a nominee. Pray for their physical and mental health during this very stressful time. Pray for their families and friends who support them. Offer prayers of thanksgiving for how God has already used them in the kingdom and will continue to use them regardless of ballot outcome. Pray for them by name as you would a brother or sister: Robert, Larry, Young Jin, Ken, Randy, David, Jonathan, Sharma, Bill, Tim, Deborah, Ivelisse, Gray, Farley, and Debbie.
After spending time in prayer, I encourage you to study each nominee's website. Each one will surely cause you to think about your own understanding of the church’s mission and your role. And isn’t that what we want a bishop to inspire us to do?
The Rev. Nance is chair of the Holston Conference Episcopacy Committee.
- 15 episcopal nominees, bios (SEJUMC.org)
- "July conferences to elect 11 bishops" (UMNS, 7/2/2012)
- "Bishop James Swanson elected to Holston area" and "Mary Virginia Taylor elected on historic 34th vote" (The Call, 7/30/2004, PDF)
The Rev. Catherine Nance is senior pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.